Opportunity Amid Distress

Journal Gazette - OpEd by Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC

Great Reimagination aims to jump-start post-COVID-19 economy by innovation

COVID-19 hijacked the American economy. Early estimates suggest more than 20% of small businesses will close permanently. Companies with underrepresented, diverse founders reportedly face even higher closure rates.

Unemployment has surged, and many of the jobs are not coming back. Companies adjust workforces and business models to adapt to new marketplace realities.

The Great Reimagination is a phrase coined at The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center. It describes what we predict is the next wave of business innovation and expansion for Indiana and the world.

It is time to cultivate and nurture a new cadre of generative, courageous, adaptive business leaders – innovators with the passion and drive to redefine business models, redevelop products and reinvent services for a post-COVID-19 economy.

COVID-19 affects companies and our daily lives. Changing consumer behavior creates economic pressure, driving businesses to change, too. The Indiana economy needs revolutionary breakthroughs from inventors and disruptors. It needs to usher in a new generation of entrepreneurs and startups. Economic distress creates opportunity. Opportunity breeds entrepreneurship.

Northeast Indiana remains a dynamic marketplace for cultivating new business growth.

Our region boasts resources to help Hoosiers to innovate through the Great Reimagination. The innovation center brings together workspace, capital, talent and expertise to fuel economic recovery driven by a resurgence of entrepreneurial spirit.

Through national, state, regional and local collaborations, The center inspires, supports and accelerates the hometown team. Over the past several years, underrepresented entrepreneurs have especially been a focus as we work to level the playing field for them. Multiple funders back these individuals through our new and existing programs.

Individuals served through these programs may include women, rural residents, immigrants, minorities, veterans, those with disabilities, the formerly incarcerated and others. Our programs encourage these individuals to overcome barriers to form and sustain business ventures.

For example, our Breakthrough Program, funded by the Foellinger Foundation, connects historically excluded aspiring business owners to sources for advising, training, business planning, assessments, coaching and more.

OPENS – the Optimized Path for Entrepreneurial Network Success – connects low-income microentrepreneurs, whose companies have fewer than nine employees, to vital services, access to capital and business coaching.

The Women’s Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center is one of two federal Small Business Administration-funded women business centers in the state.

Since its formation five years ago, more than 2,000 female business owners have benefited through workshops, training, business coaching and mentoring.

The center’s newest program emerged as a solution for women business owners dealing with the realities of a COVID-19 economy. WBC EmPWR (Equity and Prosperity for Women Reimagining their Businesses) empowers women to reimagine business models for success despite COVID-19.

The Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership funds this one-year program that runs through April 2021.

The federally funded FAST-IN Program aids inventors, researchers, scientists and small businesses pursuing funding for research and development through Small Business Technology Transfer and Small Business Innovation Research grants.

Such funding helped Engine Research Associates, Inc. evolve from the founder’s hobby, located in the family garage, into a family-owned business that advances U.S. Department of Defense initiatives.

This statewide program targets Opportunity Zones and underrepresented scientific and professional knowledge workers. The goal is to fund key applied development and commercialization activities. Our center resides in an Opportunity Zone.

The Connected Health Lab is creating a statewide network of researchers and innovators to stimulate cutting-edge breakthroughs to apply Internet-of-Things technology to health sciences to transform health care delivery.

Hoosiers, it is time to step up, make the most of these opportunities and get our economy back on track.

Reimagine a business model to address the realities of our new economy.

Reinvent a product to transform old ways of doing things.

Create a breakthrough idea for a new service to meet consumers where they are today.

Become a business owner who hinges your company’s growth to disrupting established industries.

Start a business to free you from the frustration of your income being dependent on other people’s decisions.

Act on your passion and commitment to launch your own business.

Now is our time. The Great Reimagination offers abundant opportunities to pummel the pandemic, sow seeds of innovation and grow prosperous businesses.

Karl R. LaPan is president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.


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